THE USAS' NEW $500 million manned space flight mission control centre was used for the first time during the recent STS70 Discovery mission.

The new centre, which was brought on-stream $75 million under budget, will first complement and then replace the control centre at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, which was first used during the Gemini 4 mission in June 1965.

Using the new control centre will help NASA reduce its operating costs by $20 million a year.

The new centre, which was developed by Loral Space Information Systems, will take over full operations in 1997 when the original centre - a national monument - is closed. It will initially be used for less critical orbital operations, with more complex tasks being phased in during the transition period.

The centre will be able to control Space Shuttle missions, operations aboard the international space station and simulate another Shuttle mission simultaneously. It can also process data from Russian spacecraft and payloads, if necessary.

With advanced workstations and high-speed computers, the centre employs a distributed processing concept based on local-area networks (LAN) in which individual flight-controller workstations are linked by 200km (125 miles) of fibre optic cables to make what is claimed to be the largest and fastest LAN in the world.

Source: Flight International